Upcycled clothing and fashion

Last updated: Jan 24, 2024

While modern upcycling reuses objects to create more valuable products, these 18th century objects take an item of value and transform them into another object altogether. That object may not be any more valuable than the original object, but they do allow for its continued use in another context.

This list does not cover old gowns that are made into more fashionable gowns (like V&A T.382-1984 or T.249-1963); that category is too broad and encompasses a lot of extant dresses. Likewise, old fashions are sometimes remade into something similar, but more functional, like this old waistcoat updated and lined with flattened-out stockings. Instead, this page focuses on objects that were originally made into one thing and transformed into something different, but this new object shows clear signs of its origin.

Several work bags seem to have been cut down from gowns or suits, such as National Trust 1367121 and 1360327. There is also children’s clothing recycled from adults’ clothing; for example, Colonial Williamsburg 1953-845, DAR 50.12, and Historic Deerfield 2017.30.4 are boy-sized waistcoats that started out as adult-sized waistcoats that were resized to fit a smaller wearer.

Quilted petticoats, comprising a large amount of work and material, seem to have been frequently recycled. Some quilted petticoats were later unstitched and pieced together to make bed quilts (such as Old Sturbridge Village 26.107.6, Colonial Williamsburg 1952-304, and Colonial Williamsburg 1966-417); and, vice-versa, some bed quilts were turned into quilted petticoats (such as Colonial Williamsburg 2005-299 and Colonial Williamsburg 1936-666,1).

  • National Trust 597716, a 17th century sampler turned into a work bag
  • Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences H4448-7, a 17th century embroidery (possibly a coif or a jacket) turned into a pair of shoes, c. 1710; see also Early Modern Upcycling
  • V&A 517-1877, a bedgown made in Great Britain c. 1720-1750, pieced from an embroidered textile (possibly a bedcover made c. 1690-1720)
  • National Army Museum 2006-08-53-1, the wool front section of a mitre cap embroidered with emblems of the 70th Regiment of Foot, turned into a lady’s pocket, c. 1760
  • National Trust 1367208, a gentleman’s embroidered waistcoat turned into a lady’s work bag, 1760-1775
  • A scroll on the trade card of Darby, Breeches Maker, Taylor & Draper, High Street, Ramsgate (c. 1760-1818) promises “Gloves made out of Silk Stockings.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1941-208,1, a lady’s brocaded silk sack-back gown turned into a man’s banyan, c. 1765-1775
  • Fashion Museum, Bath, a woman’s silk quilted petticoat turned into a pair of breeches
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1953-1152, an uncut waistcoat in silk, embroidered in France or England c. 1770-1780, and made into a lady’s apron
  • Baby shoes made from a British soldier’s coat captured by Sgt. James Davenport (now on display at the Museum of the American Revolution); see Family mementos find home in new museum and Telling a Different Story (h/t Trisha da Cunha)
  • DAR 99.72.2: “These green silk mitts are repurposed from a pair of silk stockings. The feet have been cut off and some of their fabric has been used to make the thumbs; the openings are bound with matching green silk satin ribbon. The striped tops of the stockings have been retained.”
    Elizabeth Boyd placed advertisements in The New-York Gazette Revived in the Weekly Post-Boy for remaking stockings into other items: “Gloves, mittens and Children’s Stockings made out of Stockings” (Sept. 26, 1748) and “Gentlemen’s Gloves, Mittens or Muffatees made out of old Stockings … She likewise makes Children’s Stockings out of old Ones; at a very reasonable Rate” (April 1, 1751). (See also A Pair of 18th Century Style Mitts Made From Old Stockings.)
  • Massachusetts Historical Society 4129, an embroidered silk muff that belonged to Hannah Dawes Goldthwaite Newcomb (1769-1851); “Exterior has embroidered design of an oval floral wreath with a posy of the same flowers and leaves on three stems, tied together with a blue bow. On the opposite side the muff has three seams from end to end at irregular widths apart, which might indicate this muff was fashioned from an earlier piece of clothing.” (See close-up photos.)
  • Met 1981.352.2, a gentleman’s embroidered waistcoat turned into a lady’s purse, c. 1795
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1419, a sewing case (housewife) made from pieces of Martha Washington’s gowns, c. 1800
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1997-15, a set of c. 1770 sleeve ruffles turned into a collar, c. 1800
  • Winterthur 2016.0017, a quilt incorporating an 18th century cloak, probably made in the early 19th century; “Family tradition says the cloak was captured from a British soldier by an ancestor fighting in the northern campaigns, where the weather was coldest, during the American Revolution. The cloak was then likely passed down through the next two generations, and probably with a tale or two attached as well. Winterthur believes the quilt was most likely made by Myranda Codner Patterson (1808-1881) around the time of her marriage to Thomas Patterson in 1828.” (The Spoils of War, in Baby Shoes & a Patchwork Quilt)
  • International Quilt Museum 2005.016.0001, a mid-18th century hooded cloak and quilted petticoat pieced together to make a bed cover in the early 19th century
  • Historic Deerfield F.260, crewel-embroidered bedhangings from c. 1750-1800, made into a patchwork quilt c. 1800-1825
  • OSV 26.23.218, an embroidered hand-pieced quilt; “The central section is pieced together and the top center piece appears to be a recycled pocket.”
  • V&A 1438-1871, a pocket made c. 1840-1850 using metal thread-embroidered silk velvet from the late 18th century